Deadly Weekend – A True Story of Obsession and Murder
by John Dilmann
Publisher – Berkely
Rating – 8/10
Summary – The murder of a wealthy physician (who was also a closet homosexual) in one of the world’s most exotic cities sounds like the plot of a detective show. Sadly, it actually happened in New Orleans in January 1978. The detective on the case, John Dillmann, recounts the story in the good true crime book Deadly Weekend.
Review – A common plot in literature is the person who is – in some way – out of place. John Dillmann’s Deadly Weekend recounts a real-life tragedy that follows this storyline. In the 1970s Dr. Mark Sheppard was a successful anesthesiologist in St. Petersburg, Florida. However, unbeknownst to most people, Sheppard was a closeted gay who frequently traveled to New Orleans where he spent his time amongst the black “hustlers” of the gay community.
While in New Orleans, Sheppard constantly tempted fate, exploring the seediest corners of the Crescent City with some of its most-disreputable characters. Sadly, this would lead to tragedy as Dr. Smith became a murder victim. The case fell to Detective John Dillmann who later became a successful author by recounting some of his more-notable cases in four true crime books.
The case soon bogged down and Dillmann found himself traveling to St. Petersburg to look for clues. As Dillmann’s investigation proceeded, he uncovered more of the details of Sheppard’s secret life. These revelations give Deadly Weekend a voyeuristic quality that makes the reader feel (slightly) guilty about reading the book. Given that Sheppard worked so hard to cover up his secret life, it is a bitter irony that his secrets were blown into the open by his murder.
New Orleans is one of my favorite places and my love for it led me to read Deadly Weekend. Indeed, The Crescent City plays a co-starring role in all of Dillmann’s books. Those who have visited “NOLA” will recognize many of the City’s landmarks. But Deadly Weekend exposes the seamy backwaters that don’t make the tourist brochures. The reader enjoys the armchair travel.
One of the best things about the Dillmann books is that they present police work and the legal process, as they are – and not as we would like them to be. Dillmann and his colleagues on the New Orleans Police Department constantly had to “make do” with inadequate funding and low salaries that required them to spend much of their time “moonlighting.”
Moreover, when the cases moved to trial, there were no guarantees that justice would be served. This uncertainty helps build the suspense in Deadly Weekend and the other four books. It must also be said, unfortunately, that the four books lose a lot of their momentum when the cases come to trial; Dillmann cannot maintain Deadly Weekend’s momentum when the lawyers take charge of the proceedings.
In Deadly Weekend, Dillmann writes in a straightforward style. He spends relatively little time ruminating on the victims, the crimes, and the criminals who commit them. This can be good in that Dillmann doesn’t tell the reader what to think. At the same time, the reader wants to know why a successful person such as Dr. Sheppard behaved in a way that could only end badly for him. There are no answers in the pages of Deadly Weekend – you have to speculate as to what drove Sheppard.
The Reed Business review on Amazon.com –
– states that Deadly Weekend isn’t up to the level of Dillmann’s earlier efforts (Unholy Matrimony & The French Quarter Killers). I disagree. Granted, Unholy Matrimony is difficult to beat, but Deadly Weekend is at least its equal and is considerably better than The French Quarter Killers (and the fourth book in the series, Blood Warning). Having said that, all four books will appeal to true crime fans who want to read about New Orleans’ underworld. For those interested in Dillmann’s books, Deadly Weekend is a great place to start.